Nine questions to evaluate the inclusivity of your org
When Joel Spolsky published his blog post entitled The Joel Test back in 2000, it became a rubric that engineers and managers could use to evaluate the fitness of their software engineering teams. Some of the items of The Joel Test may seem passé now (I mean, if you’re a software company that doesn’t use source control and you’re reading this, it’s too late), but software development practices in 2000 were different to how they are now. At least that’s what I’m assuming because I was 13 years old. Despite that, The Joel Test still has relevance today. For example, I have worked on teams that have scored less than ten on it which indicates some serious problems according to their grading scale.
The Joel Test is a useful metric for judging a team’s engineering culture. But it doesn’t directly address a team’s social culture and values. As an engineer from an underrepresented community, a team’s character and ethics can be as important as the technical aspects. So I’m creating a remix of The Joel Test, aptly titled, The Will Test.
The Will Test
The Will Test consists of nine questions and is a quick way for engineers and managers to evaluate the culture and inclusivity of their teams.
- Are there any minorities in management or leadership?
- Are there resources for maintaining your mental health?
- Is there an established Code of Conduct?
- Are org charts and titles clearly defined?
- Is the path to promotion clearly defined?
- Does the company invest in career growth?
- Does the team recruit through diverse channels?
- Is there a dedicated DE&I team?
- Is there an internal mentorship program?
Are there any minorities in management or leadership?
Managers and executives are responsible for helping build company culture. According to a 2017 report by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the percentage of Black men and Black women in management at the 177 largest tech companies were 1.5% and 0.9%, respectively. And the percentages of executives for those same segments were 1.0% and 0.4%. Having a monolithic executive team can lead to gaps in the efforts to create an inclusive culture.
Are there resources for maintaining your mental health?
According to a survey by Blind, 68% of respondents surveyed said that they were suffering from job burnout either weekly or daily. Burnout can affect anyone, but add in the everyday stressors that minorities face such as microaggressions and imposter syndrome, and the effects are much more pronounced. Providing transparent access to mental health resources is becoming a necessity.
Is there an established Code of Conduct?
There has been plenty of literature about dealing with the “rockstar engineer” or the “10x engineer”: the engineer that pushes a ton of code while pushing everyone’s buttons. If your company allows this person to bulldoze others because of their reputation, then that’s a sign of broken company culture. The same can be said about employees who make culturally insensitive or sexually suggestive remarks and gestures without consequences. Implementing a more welcoming Code of Conduct, such as what the Linux Kernel developers did, can improve inclusivity.
Are org charts and titles clearly defined?
Some companies favor flat organizational structures versus a traditional hierarchical structure. That isn’t inherently bad, but it can introduce ambiguity. A minority in engineering rarely benefits from ambiguity in the workplace. This can create an environment where transparency about decision making dies.
Is the path to promotion clearly defined?
This is related to the organizational chart checkpoint. Ambiguity in the promotion process usually leads to negative results for minority engineers. The expectations and review process should be transparent enough that there are little-to-no surprises at performance appraisal time.
Does the company invest in career growth?
Recruiting diverse candidates to companies is only half the battle. Retaining that talent is equally as important. A company that invests in the growth of its employees has been shown to have a better chance of retaining talent. Leveling up skills is very important for minority engineers' progression as they are usually at a disadvantage in the realm of office politics.
Does the team recruit through diverse channels?
Tech companies are overflowing with talent from the “target” schools. Those schools undoubtedly produce high-quality engineers, but they do not have a monopoly on talent. The pipeline problem is constantly cited, but you can’t catch fish in the desert. In addition to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that enroll engineers every year, there are other channels that can be used to source diverse talent. Jopwell is an online platform to help find candidates from underrepresented groups. Tapia, Grace Hopper, NSBE, and Afrotech are annual conferences that provide access to high-quality technical talent.
Is there a dedicated DE&I team?
Dedicated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion teams are becoming more commonplace. When a company doesn’t have a DE&I team, the responsibility of promoting DE&I usually falls to the minority engineers themselves. This isn’t inherently bad, but it is an issue when those DE&I efforts are not factored into compensation. Having minority engineers perform that work, but then not have it included in a performance appraisal only perpetuates the inequality they are trying to address.
Is there an internal mentorship program?
Having a mentor is one way to help combat the feelings of isolation that many minorities have in the workplace. A formal mentorship program has been found to be more effective for minority engineers due to having a structure that can mitigate some of the sociopolitical factors that prevent them from finding informal mentors.
The Will Test is not a perfect metric, but rather a guideline that can be used by both employees and company management to evaluate inclusivity. The Will Test is also not static. Admittedly, many of the factors are shaped by my experience as a Black man in tech. But The Will Test can easily be adapted to address the concerns of other underrepresented groups. The goal is to be a benchmark that other companies strive to reach for in order to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces for all.